Darin Pesnell, even before he planted Iron Works Church in March, knew he wanted to head a place of worship that bucked convention.
“[We were] trying to figure out what kind of church we want to be. How do we engage folks not in our church?” the pastor, a young-looking 33, explained last week from a stool in Steel City coffee house.
So rather than squelch dissent, as Pesnell said some religious institutions have earned a reputation for doing, Iron Works—a Presbyterian Church in America mission that meets at Franklin Commons—has taken a different tack: it decided to give the microphone to the skeptics.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be great to have a debate that goes beyond sound bites?” he said, citing the improvable presidential debates we were subjected to this fall. “Wouldn’t it be great to go deeper than that, flesh out the actual disagreements.”
“I thought…maybe an interesting way to do that would be to have two dead guys do the actual debate.”
What the reverend came up with was Saints and Skeptics; a meeting of (deceased) minds that will pit logician and an agnostic Bertrand Russell—as interpreted by Phoenixville resident and Bertrand Russell Society chairman Chad Trainer—against St. Augustine—who will be played by Westminster Theological Seminary professor Dr. Carl Trueman.
The two interlocutors were an obvious choice, Pesnell said: both men were in dogged pursuit of satisfaction, but the journey led Augustine deeper into Christian faith, while it repelled Russell from it.
“What if those guys sat down and had a beer together?” Pesnell said he wondered. On Thursday night, we'll find out.
While it will be incumbent upon the two stand-ins to defend the ghosts' positions on the various issues the moderator will put to them, Pesnell said the format will give Trainer and Trueman room to, when necessary, distance themselves from Russell and Augustine’s views.
“Not only are [Trainer and Trueman] tasked with saying what they think…but they have to access this other mind,” said Pesnell, calling it an "interesting" format.
He added that the participants won’t be the only ones forced out of their comfort zones.
“It’s going to be really entertaining, really informative, and challenging to everyone,” the young pastor said.
“No matter who you are. If you come from a religious background or a non-religious background, you’re going to be challenged.”
Saints and Skeptics: A Lively Conversation About the Things That Matter Most will be held on December 13 at 7 p.m. at Franklin Commons. Wine and cheese will be provided by Drexelbrook Catering, while Sly Fox Brewery will have a free beer tasting on site. Tickets can be purchased on the Iron Works website for $15, or at the door for $19.